My new favorite job description: chauffeur
May 16, 2009, 6:09 pm
Filed under: conference, friends, San Diego, Seattle, social action

I got a chance to attend the first annual Pentecost Seattle event this morning.  Well, part of it, anyway.  It was a good, stimulating conversation on justice that included a very wide variety of Christians.  I had to leave early, though – I was tasked with playing chauffeur today.  Not a bad assignment, though.

Passenger #1 in my vehicle today: The Rev. Dr. Samuel McKinney.  He has been the most significant civil rights leader in the history of this city.  He marched with MLK in Washington D.C., Selma, and Montgomery, and hosted Dr. King in his church.  I was honored to spend some time with him.  He asked if we could stop at McDonald’s for a fish sandwich on the way to his house.  Heck yeah!  I’m a part of a denomination that has an extremely poor history when it comes to civil rights, and I took the opportunity to express my sorrow for that, and my appreciation for the sacrifices he has made.  He was more than gracious.

Passenger #2 in my vehicle today: my San Diego friend, Matt Casper.  He flew in today for some work with Off The Map, and I was the airport chauffeur.  Always a hoot.  I’m looking forward to some more laughs later tonight.

I like driving most of the time, but with company like I’ve had in my passenger seat today, I couldn’t go wrong.


Dissertate This! pt. 2

Here’s my second post taking a trip through the dissertation that kept me busy over the past few years.  In my previous post, I talked about the rapid spread of Christianity in the global South and East, even at the same time as there has been a noted downturn in Christian practice here in the Western world.  While asking questions about what “we” in the West can learn from our sisters and brothers in other contexts, I thought it was also important to address one of the essential realities of our time – globalization.  <PAUSE: I just got THE biggest guilty pleasure inserting that link for globalization – the link is to Wikipedia.  Citing Wikipedia as a source in academia is a major no-no, so I had to do it here for kicks>

Thomas Friedman brought the topic of globalization to the masses in his book The World is Flat, talking about how technology and commerce have brought everyone in the world closer together than they ever have been before.  An obvious example of this is the call centers in India that process many of our customer service phone calls in the U.S., but it goes much farther than that.  Friedman does a good job at helping people connect the dollars they spend with the people who produced the products being purchased.

Friedman is a pretty big proponent of globalization and the benefits it brings.  The rise of a middle class in China and India are often cited as the up-side to all of this.   However, there’s another side of the story.  Globalization also brings about some pretty dark things that we don’t often hear about.  The global economy is operated on the strength of a large number of transnational corporations – note that I didn’t say “international” or even “multi-national.”  Transnational corporations are multi-national, but they are frequently able to avoid being overly-identified with any single nation of origin, for the purpose of not complicating trade treaties.  Some are so big and economically powerful that they are “bigger” than many countries in the developing world.  This means that if a small, struggling nation has some natural resources that one of these corporations wants, the company has a major advantage when it comes to negotiations.  The country desperately needs the money and jobs the company will provide, so they give in to extremely low pay, poor worker conditions, environmental devastation, etc., all with very little retribution if the corporation violates any of its terms of agreement.

Tons of books are written on the complexities of globalization, so trust me, there’s no way I’m going to do justice to it here.  But there are some dynamics to living in a globalized world that are positive and some are negative.  Being concerned with Christian movements, my concern is to accept the reality of our situation – globalization isn’t going to go away, and the Church is in a position to utilize the positive aspects of it, and speak and act boldly to blunt the negative impacts wherever we are able.

I’m not sure what I’ll get into next time, but I’ll probably start by framing things up from a church-historical point of view.  One quick note for those who commented on my previous dissertation postings – I am will to make a .pdf of my dissertation available by request, but I have some last minute minor edits to clean up this week before it goes off for printing and binding.  Once I’ve got that final version locked down, I’ll put it out.

Creativity Flows (but not accidentally)
March 10, 2009, 9:37 pm
Filed under: creativity, friends, social action

After spending a very good weekend with family and friends (some of which has been documented here by Jason), I’m reflecting on the energy of creativity.  On Sunday, I had a chance to chat a bit with Emily and James, who were both recognized at the Ideacamp the previous weekend.  Emily and I go back several years, so it was really fun to catch up with her a little, and hear about all the great things she is pursuing now, including Bake It Forward.  James, too, is a great guy, and makes a really great point in his presentation of WikiChoice – namely that so much of the time, we dwell on issues of justice that aren’t actionable.  WikiChoice gives people the chance to do something positive, rather than just not do something negative (the website is in development, but you can watch James describe it on this video).

One thing that Emily and James mentioned is that their ideas are a result of intentional effort.  They meet with a small group of friends every Monday evening for the purpose of generating ideas for how to make the world a better place.  They brainstorm and work together to make things happen.  In other words, these ideas aren’t a result of accidental brain episodes – they’re the result of disciplined effort.  It makes me ask how often I set aside time to be creative – toward solving problems, toward helping others become aware of issues, toward developing new efforts at revealing the Kingdom (the answer is: certainly not enough).

Creativity can’t be underestimated.  But I find that I don’t take the habits related to it seriously enough.  Perhaps I should spend more time over here.

Nickelsville Resident Poet
December 4, 2008, 6:58 am
Filed under: friends, Seattle, social action, the purple door

My friend Jeff posted the following video of his friend, Beau.  He is one of the residents of Nickelsville, and tells a little bit of his story, and shares one of his poems.  For you non-Seattlites, Nickelsville is a homeless encampment currently located in the University District, just a few blocks away from The Purple Door.  The residents have been pushed around by the city leadership, with particularly aggressive moves made by mayor Greg Nickels – so they honored him by naming their little town after him.  These are not your “typical” homeless folks – many have jobs and families.

I’ve met Beau briefly, and as you’ll see from the video, he’s a pretty smart guy.

An addendum for the record
November 6, 2008, 4:22 pm
Filed under: culture, politics, social action

In all of the big talk about the election of Barack Obama to the presidency this week, I, along with a few others I’ve read, made reference to the obvious significance of this – “This historic time for us brings up the pain of our national sins, but does so in a way that demonstrates a spirit of redemption.”

While this may be true, I’ve also been remembering that there are other sins for which we’ve not fully made restitution.  In particular, I’ve been thinking about the Native American nations.  We enslaved and killed many African slaves, but we also massacred many many native peoples (including Mexican natives).  It’s a different situation, with a different set of problems and attempted solutions . . . nevertheless it remains unresolved.  May we continue to exercise humility and grace as we live into the reality of redemption.

A new day
November 5, 2008, 8:02 am
Filed under: culture, globalization, politics, social action

During the election season, I posted a few times about my ambivalence toward this  year’s presidential election, stating repeatedly that in all the hype and emotion regarding the changes ahead, we as followers of Jesus must not forget where our highest allegiance lies.  And while that is still firmly in my mind, I feel the need to congratulate USAmerica for making a really important step last night.  The truth is, Jesus can’t be president, so someone else has to be.  As I watched the reaction to Obama’s victory on TV last night, I was pleased.  This historic time for us brings up the pain of our national sins, but does so in a way that demonstrates a spirit of redemption.  Our standing in the world just shot up – for the right kinds of reasons.

Economic disparity will persist, the terrorists will continue to hate “us,” and transnational corporations will still hold the reigns of power.  We need to keep in mind that nearly half of the people in this nation did not vote for Obama.  And frankly, I hope that on January 21, all the Christians who did so enthusiastically endorsed Obama, will be ready to hold him to his campaign promises, call him to even higher standards, and protest with righteous indignation if he gets caught up in petty political partisanship that fails to address real issues of justice.  But that part comes later.

For now, we can celebrate.  We do so with a view toward the Kingdom that is yet to come in all its fullness, and we pray for a vision and reality of earth as it is in heaven.  But we can hold our heads high.

Trick AND Treat: A Social Experiment
October 31, 2008, 3:28 pm
Filed under: campus ministry, social action, the purple door

1031081115 We at The Purple Door seem to have developed a bit of a Halloween tradition.  For the third straight year, we went out to the UW campus to do our Trick AND Treat social experiment.  It’s a super simple, but fun approach to helping people think outside of themselves, and pay quality attention to others.  In years past here’s what we’ve done.  We set up a table on campus, with a big banner that says “FREE CANDY” on it.  We’re supplied with several cases of full-sized candy bars.  Most students are highly skeptical of course – wouldn’t you be?  We have to convince people that the candy really is free, but once we do, the fun begins.  We tell them, “O.k. there actually is a catch, but it’s a fun one.  We’re not going to give you one candy bar, we’re going to give you two.  One is for you to enjoy for yourself, but we’d like you to take the second candy bar, and give it away to someone you don’t know.  Pay attention to how you feel, how it makes the other person feel, and just pay attention to those around you.”  The previous couple of years have been really great – it’s priceless to watch the students’ facial transitions as we explain things to them – first skepticism, then confusion, then amusement, then laughter and excitement.

For this year’s version, we decided to put a political twist on it, since we’re just a few days away from the big presidential election, and people can’t stop thinking and talking about it anyway.  Instead of asking students to give the candy to someone they don’t know, we asked them to take one candy bar for themselves, and give the second one away to someone who is supporting a presidential candidate other than the one they’re supporting.  We didn’t ask who people planned to vote for, and definitely didn’t advocate for any candidates.  When students asked why we were doing this, we’d simply tell them that we think it’s important to value conversations with people, even when we might disagree with them.  Maybe we don’t see eye to eye, but can we at least decide that we’re going to disagree well?

Obviously, this is a silly little thing, but we think it’s important to do things like this, just to get people communicating with each other, and thinking differently.  If nothing else, we’ve had some fun with people, and been able to encourage them.  All in all, we gave away right around 260 candy bars today.  Perhaps some day we’ll come up with something that won’t get the dentists and dieticians of the world miffed at us!